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Friday, February 19, 2010

Co-operatives and Hybrids

On Wednesday, I received two letters from parents asking me to do a post on co-operative arrangements A-SAP. Registrations have arrived in the mailbox and some parents are experiencing price-shock and some are wondering what options might be out there.

From the information I have gathered, cooperative schooling arrangements range in formality as well as price. There are many developed cooperative pre-schools throughout the nation. A quick google search for cooperative preschools will likely lead you to an already existing model in your area. Pricing structures may be based on level of parent participation. E.g., a parent who participates in the school on a bi-weekly basis will pay less than a conventional school. A parent who participates in the school on a weekly basis will pay significantly less than a conventional school. Cooperatives normally provide training to parents who assist in the classroom. The cooperative will hire an administrator, teachers, and some contracted specialists for music or dance.

The same model can be carried into the grade school and secondary school years. On occasion I heard of frum parents arranging a school with paid staff/tutors for their own children. Due to spare enrollments, there is little economy of scale and participation in such a school does not come free. However, in the cases I'm aware of, the price of such schooling has been competitive and the education is tailored to the individual students. Without greater participation it is difficult to sustain an arrangement like this. And such an arrangement may only be available for girls or boys.

Homeschooling Christian families have developed a number of cooperative arrangements for homeschoolers that are worth researching. I have found a number of these programs on line and I am only presenting two just to get the brains churning. The Heritage Homeschool Cooperative in Washington State has over 100 participating families. It meets every Wednesday from 9-2pm where four classes are offered. There is a tuition and materials fee. There are a variety of parent taught classes offered (here is a sample and interested readers can look at all the offerings on the website). Some classes are academic and homework is assigned. Other classes are more extracurricular. The school is K-12, but preschool classes are also offered which is nice for larger homeschooling families looking for a bit of a school experience.

A more formal and intense school experience can be had at a school such as Granite Classical. This school comes with a larger price tag, still a bargain. This particular schools meets twice a week where students are given a classical education (grammar, logic, rhetoric in all subject matter). The schooling days begins at 8:15am with chapel and core subjects end at 2PM and elective courses conclude at 4PM. Unlike cooperatives, where classes are parent lead, this school has a staff drawn (mostly) from outside its parent body. Staff members might be professional lawyers or engineers who look to share their knowledge. This particular school starts at the 3rd grade when children can read. Like other cooperatives, parents must participate in their children's education. I find this hybrid schooling model to be very attractive personally.

There are numerous sources online on parent participatory schooling models. It appears that many churches have been at the forefront of supporting the development of homeschooling and cooperative schooling models. I would recommend that any parents interested in such a model contact churches that host these groups and speak with founders and parents who are interested in sharing their knowledge first hand (perhaps in a neutral location such as a Starbucks). The internet has numerous articles and resources, but there is nothing like a face to face meeting to explore an option. On occasion I run into homeschooling families and have found them to be very willing and interested in sharing. Many of them belong to umbrella organizations which provide some extracurricular opportunities. You would be surprised to find out that many rec centers, gyms, and even businesses have extracurriculars geared towards homeschoolers in the early hours. I imagine that cooperative schooling parents would also be willing to share their experiences and thoughts on cooperative arrangements. I have discovered there is just about every type of cooperative and support model out there. There are homeschooling associations for African Americans, unschoolers, secular homeschoolers, Catholic homeschoolers (my good friend from growing up is a Catholic homeschooler and mom to many). Speaking of development, there are even buyers co-ops for materials.

For those ready to jump in with two feet who want to look at a Jewish model, there is a Los Angeles Yeshiva for boys which has Rebbes and offers a formal sedarim and supervised homeschooling through a charter school program. There is a group of Florida parents who formed a Jewish co-operative preschool and will be expanding their programming to the early elementary grades. The contact email and phone number for more information is in the linked post. The parents have been so kind as to share information with the readers of this blog and I'm sure they would be thrilled to be contacted. Both the Los Angeles Yeshiva and the Florida Cooperative are full time schools, rather than part time cooperatives. In the Florida cooperative the parents take care of the behind the scenes administration as well as some classroom support. Parents involved with the Florida cooperative are dual income in many cases.

Readers, the readers who wrote me regarding cooperatives would like the advice of all who have participated in cooperative agreements. They would like you to share your experiences, pros and cons. Additionally, they would be interested in some of the nitty gritty. Please participate if you have been a part of any cooperative arrangement from a cooperative camp to a cooperative preschool to a cooperative schooling arrangement. This is your chance to share your experiences.

In a future post I will hopefully present from pros and cons I've gleaned from different articles online, etc.


Honestly Frum said...


Ahavah Gayle said...

The first difficulties are related to the small number of families who join in the early days - usually a "class" will have to be two or maybe even three grades together until enough families join. The first year of operation was quite chaotic because the growth was sporadic came in fits and starts and sometimes it was necessary to shuffle kids around or break a 2 or 3 class group into a 1 or 2 class group in the middle of a term. As long as the group has chosen a curriculum and sticks with it, though, this problem is not harmful to the children's studies, just somewhat annoying - and it should solve itself as the membership in the group stabilizes, though this may not occur until the second (or third) year.

I highly recommend a four-quarter schedule but some parents still like the 2 or 3 semesters with a long summer vacation standard. If the group tries one and decides to switch to the other, there can be a bit of "scrunching" or "stretching" of the curriculum to make the transition, but again, as long as everybody's on the same page (figuratively speaking) you can try one and then switch to the other if it doesn't work.

Something that probably won't be a problem in communities with large numbers of observant families who want to homeschool is when most of the kids "age out" and go off to trade school or college. In small groups with a fairly fixed group of participants, the number of kids will dwindle until you have the "early days" problem in reverse - downsizing and combining until the group eventually disbands. Keep this in mind as an inevitable result, something to plan for, if your group stays small.

If possible, arrange with a nearby yeshiva or kollel for their members to get "teaching credits" - experience for a grade/credit - if they donate their time each day or seek to teach the co-op kids their Hebrew and Torah lessons for free (or a very, very small fee).

Have a parent or perhaps the local federation office offer a space for a textbook/materials swap & storage, each grade handing down their books to the upcoming class. That way only workbooks need to be replaced annually. You might try and find a sponsor or organization that will give you a grant for the first set of books for each grade, but don't go forward if that's the ONLY plan. Parents may have to buy all the textbooks for the first couple of years.

For kids to go on to college, they must regularly take whatever state achievement tests your state requires on the state's regular basis. There are also periodic national exams the kids must take if your program is to be acceptable when they apply to colleges. These can be done at an independent testing agency or proctored by independent observers.

Don't try and make a rigid dayschool-like schedule. Be flexible and creative. Find out what resources are available in your community and don't be afraid to use them - libraries, museums, children's theaters, art and craft programs, youth orchestras, sports programs, free lectures, concerts or films or symposiums on current events at the local universities, etc.

Those are a few thoughts off the top of my head. There's really no one-size-fits-all way to do this - you have to adapt to the resources available, "in-house" and out in the community, and the skill sets of the volunteers, and the particular ages and learning styles of the kids involved. The best advice is just to NOT have a pre-conceived idea of how things "should" be arranged - do what works, not what a big dayschool does. When you don't have "economies of scale" you have to be lean and adaptable.


Orthonomics said...

Ahavah Gayle-Fantastic comment. I will repost it soon. This is exactly the type of advice that one of the parents is looking for.

オテモヤン said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bethami said...

side note - i also get these posts in oriental characters.
what are they?

reader and sometime anon commenter

frustrated said...

I was looking into this recently and found out that in New York, hiring a tutor for a group of kids is considered opening a non-public school, and not a homeschooling co-op.

Orthonomics said...

Thank you frustrated. Can you help share what is involved in terms of any costs and licensing?

frustrated said...

From (State Education Dept. Homeschooling Q&A:
"Parents providing home instruction to their children may arrange to have their children instructed in a group situation for particular subjects but not for a majority of the home instruction program. Where groups of parents organize to provide group instruction by a tutor for a majority of the instructional program, they are operating a nonpublic school and are no longer providing home instruction. Substantial equivalency of a nonpublic school program is not determined pursuant to Section 100.10 of the Regulations of the Commissioner."

A further search found this link, about starting a new nonpublic school:
"As a first step, we recommend that you inform the superintendent of schools in the district in which the school is to be located of your intention to establish a school. When plans are firm, you or the administrator of the new school should meet with the local superintendent of schools and provide the following items:

* a certificate of occupancy, health inspection report or fire inspection report, depending on local requirements;
* a copy of the school calendar for the coming year;
* the enrollment at each grade level;
* the names and addresses of students who will be attending the school;
* a list of the courses and subjects which will be offered in the school;
* and a description of the testing program which will be administered by the school."

My friend and I are planning to talk to a superintendent in the near future.

Ahavah Gayle said...

Frustrated -

The point of a co-op is to not hire people, but to have the parents provide most of the instruction at no charge. You are correct in that hiring tutors for the classes puts you outside of the homeschool framework and into a lot of intrusiveness where the local governments are concerned. Most homes will likely not qualify for the students to meet in under those conditions meaning greatly increased expenses, pretty much negating the point of the co-op. You need to think carefully before you proceed if there are not enough parents who are actually willing to do the teaching in your group.

frustrated said...

We wanted to homeschool our kids, in different grades, because we aren't happy with the area schools.

We thought that having a handful of kids for each of 2 or 3 grades, and hiring experienced teachers, would solve the problems of 1) socializing and 2) parents not having patience to teach. But we had no intention of starting a whole school.

YaelaFrumHomeschooler said...

Frustrated, so why don't you homeschool your kids and swap informal teaching with another parent in topics you are not comfortable with? Would that break the law in NY?

Most co-ops in the homeschooling world have parents teaching different subjects or running the nursery in exchange for discounts in the tuition. There is at least one how to make a co-op book/coach in the homeschooling world. I would have to do some digging but I could find a title if someone needed.

As far as the socializing, your school day will be done much sooner, so you could homeschool and then socialize over fun stuff in the afternoons -- that's what we do. As for not having patience, it is not really that bad (and that come from someone with little patience!).

Josh said...

Hi SL,

Regarding the Los Angeles yeshiva, this is not "supervised homeschooling" through a charter school program. This form of schooling, virtual schooling, is considered full time public school and the curriculum and program is provided by a virtual charter school which supervised by a school district. While the learning could be done from home, it should not be confused with homeschooling.

BTW, a Yeshiva in Myrtle Beach has a similar program and it serves middle school as well as high school.

Lastly, parents in many states can take advantage of FREE secular options like these. As far as the Limudei Kodesh goes, Ahava Gayle seems to have some good suggestions.

If readers want to pick my brain to find out if FREE virtual charter schooling is available in their respective states, they can email me at vso613 at


Orthonomics said...

Thank you Josh. I nabbed the language from the PSA from the Yeshiva itself: see here

The LA Yeshiva uses a virtual program provided by the state. The learning environment is supervised by the Yeshiva.

Josh-What states now offer free virtual schooling? Thanks.

Josh said...

Here are the quick ones I can rattle off: ..... Arizona, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Florida (not all areas) , California (not all areas), South Carolina, Washington, Nevada, Idaho, Minnesota, Kansas, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, Louisiana

Efforts are under way to push into other states.

frustrated said...

Yaela, no one is home to socialize with "early" in the afternoons if we don't school with a group. And when the kids do get home after 4pm, there's homework, supper, and bedtime -- not much time to socialize.

Yael said...

Frustrated, if you are interested in co-ops and hybrid homeschooling, that means your children would have a "chevra", right? You are not homeschooling by yourself. You say there are other families interested in homeschooling in your community. If several families in your community want to homeschool, you can make playgroups after each family's school day is over. Then the so-called socialization problem is solved. Would you rally want your children to socialize in school -- that is what gets them in trouble (talking in class, playing during school time, and the like)! :)

Frum children getting home at 4pm is one of the many problems you can solve by opting out of the system. If they stay in school, how much time do they get to socialize in the upper grades anyways?

nava said...

I was in a co-op 'school' of homeschooling families for one year and I also took a co-op 'course' later on; I strongly favour the model of taking individual courses for several reasons:
1. In a school co-op situation you run into issues of what happens if parents don't have time to teach a course? In my school they charged those students tuition. When the parents couldn't pay, which did happen, the student was kicked out. Would you be willing to do that? Would you rather allow children to rely on the charity of other families willing to essentially educate the child without any reciprocity? Would there be a limit to how many kids could rely on this sort of charity? Hard questions.
2. Although the co-op was based on a mutual belief system eventually one or two individuals 'took over' and began running things their way, for the benefit of their children and not necessarily for the other students. All parents want the best situation and environment for their children, but a successful co-op environment requires compromise. If you aren't willing to compromise, a co-op 'school' is NOT a good match! If compromise is not a problem, then all the parents need to have equal say, and guidelines need to be set forth at the beginning of the endeavor, upheld, and revisited as new situation arise. This requires a lot of extra time on the part of the parents, but it is needed to make sure that you don't wind up with people who wind up 'handling everything' and eventually running everything without oversight.
3. You will have negative behaviour! You will have bullying and ostracizing, curiosity about sex and drugs, and attitude problems. The good thing about a co-op is if the parents are all working together and diligent than any and all parents can step in to correct negative behaviour throughout the day. The downside is if parents take the attitude that 'it isn't my kid!' because in a small co-op environment peer pressure is even more powerful, in my experience, than in the larger public school setting and negative behaviour spreads FAST.
4. On the other hand, you do get a network of families working together and your kids get a group of peers who 'get it' and who they can work with. Of course, the individual class set-up offers this as well.

After leaving the co-op I took a rhetoric course with a fantastic educator and homeschooling mom. She had 3 levels of the class, we met once a week and it was limited to 8 students (that was all that fit at her dining room table).
1. The small size and focused work enabled us to row together as a group and we learned a lot about interpersonal communication, humor, and appropriate behaviour (we were teenagers; we could be pretty aggravating)
2. If a student was acting up, not doing the work, or their parent wasn't paying the fees, she could just send them home. She didn't have to put up with the aggravation because she wasn't in the school classroom setting.
3. While the cost of the course was quite reasonable, paying for several of these courses can quickly become expensive, which is where the co-op school is better. However, there was also a network of different parents teaching different courses, and these parents could 'swap' classes with each other rather than paying for the course, aside from materials fees (you teach Biology, I'll teach gymnastics). This worked really well for the students who could have a flexible schedule.

Either situation can be extremely beneficial, just keep in mind that a 'school' set up takes a lot more work and emotion than it first appears. Based on my own experience I will be looking for individual classes for my kids as they get older, rather than tie us to a formal schooling setting.

Avivah @ Oceans of Joy said...

Frustrated - as a veteran homeschooler (homeschooling for ten years with now nine children), I'd suggest you drop the goal of starting a coop if all you want is to homeschool your kids. It's a lot more complicated than just homeschooling your kids yourself.

The social aspect is a straw man; there are other options than just school friends, and more importantly, there are other ways to think about the issue of socialization. By that I mean that the idea that lots of time with peers is healthy and shold be replicated by those outside of the school system needs to be challenged. Naturally limiting this as homeschoolers will be to actually be to your/your children's advantage.

As far as having patience, it will take a lot of patience to put something like a coop together with disparate ideas of how to form one, what the goals are, etc. People often find that once they have their kids home all day and are in a good groove, they need less patience than they expected because their children are happier and more relaxed.

Feel free to contact me with questions; I've also written extensively on my blog about homeschooling.

Avivah @ Oceans of Joy said...

Sorry, forgot to provide a link for Frustrated -